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Sam Crutchfield was back on the water -- and in the water again -- Wednesday, just three weeks after being attacked by a 10-foot alligator while fly-fishing in a marsh off Lake Istokpoga.

Fishermen don't scare easily.

Crutchfield, 66, is a semi-retired fishing charter-boat captain in Fort Pierce who has spent his whole life around Florida waters, a little amazed and almost indignant about what happened to him last month. His encounter, which ended when he punched the alligator full force in his eye socket, preceded the three unrelated and fatal attacks across Florida recently.

He and good friend David Putnam were wading through waist/chest deep water angling for panfish, leaving their boat almost a quarter-mile away, when he was taken totally by surprise.

An experienced outdoorsman, Crutchfield never had felt threatened seriously by an alligator before, though he knew they often were numerous and occasionally close. He has seen alligators eat his fish, his ducks, his dogs even, but they always seemed respectful of fishermen wading through their waters.

Not anymore.

This one bit him from behind, across the right hip and thigh, almost knocking him down. Fortunately, though, it released its grip after his blow to the head.

"I never saw this one coming, never saw it above water until it bit me. It was frightening. He absolutely nailed me," he said from his home this week. "I probably did the best walk-on-water routine you'd ever see, but I also know you have to get back on the horse. It's not going to change my fishing habits, just my judgment about where I can go."

Crutchfield was fishing in waders again this week -- his first time back in the water -- but he was closer to his Fort Pierce home. The attack happened just south of Sebring, in West/Central Florida, an area closer to where he grew up in Highlands County.

Although the fatal attacks have reopened a call for more harvesting of gators, they are not expected to change the habits of serious fishermen.

Crutchfield spent two weeks taking antibiotics and still has the lacerations and teeth marks across his hip, but he was not injured seriously. He was lucky.

He filed a report with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission -- which estimated there were 100 alligators in the 10-foot or larger range where he was fishing, an area on the south side of Big Island on Lake Istokpoga.

"Unless you're experienced and feel comfortable wading, best advice I could give people is to stay closer to the boat. Actually, I'd tell an inexperienced fishermen, this time of year, to just stay in the boat," he said. "During mating season, when the gators are hungry, the boat is a good place to be."

The attacks haven't deterred other serious fishermen. Jim Conley, a lifelong outdoorsman from Central Florida, has spent this week in the waters around his South Florida fishing camp near Everglades City.

Like Crutchfield, Conley loves wading into the marshes, taking clients in search of snook in the shallow, brackish waters.

"I'm not going to change the way I fish. Most of the time, the alligators are not something to be afraid of. They hear the splashing of the fish, they come out of the woods," Conley said. "Sometimes, the big ones in the 10-12-foot range can make you a little uncomfortable, and if that's the case, you get the client in the boat and move."

Crutchfield and Conley agree that the state probably has underestimated how many alligators there are, and more should be harvested. Conley said that by keeping at least the upper half of his body out of the water, though, alligators won't bother him.

It's the swimmers and anyone snorkeling with his body totally in the water who is in danger around alligator-infested waters.

"My rule of thumb is that if the alligator is bigger than you, let him have the area, and you find another place to fish," said Mike Reark, a fisherman from Sebring who runs Salty Cracker Charters. "And if you're fishing from the shore, there is no problem. You have a better chance of being run over by an airboat than you have of being attacked by a gator."

Jimmy Boston of Sanford has been a commercial fisherman on the St. Johns River for more than three decades. During the season, he hunts them. Out of season, he raises them on his farm. To him, the alligators in the wild are a nuisance more than a threat. When hungry, they can tear up his fishing nets, sometimes getting tangled in them and drown.

"I see them. They see me. I just move on," Boston said. "Basically, they are scared of you. Only advice I ever give is, 'Don't mess with them.' "

John Bitter, who owns Bitter's Bait and Tackle in Longwood, has been fishing in fresh water around Central Florida since the 1950s. He said the recent attacks probably won't deter and change the way anyone fishes. He said it's a swimming issue, not a fishing issue.

"Fishermen don't [care] about alligators," he said. "I've had them bow up at you like a scorpion, but common sense tells you they're just trying to protect an area. If you stay in the boat, it's really a non-issue. I've had them hit my boat, but I bet there's never been one to jump in a boat after you."

Bitter said the attacks might be the result of the alligator mating season being later this year, the same time when people flock to the water.

"The more they are around people, seeing boat after boat after boat, the less afraid they are going to be," he said. "I've seen more big gators than ever now willing to check you out. They don't hide from you anymore."

Of the 20 reported fatalities in Florida since 1948, none has involved fishermen, according to the conservation commission. Mostly they involved someone swimming or snorkeling, or an unattended child going into the water.

Crutchfield said he almost became the first, which has many fishermen talking but few changing their habits.

"Any time you go into the water, you can put yourself in harm's way," he said. "I don't know what the odds are, maybe a million to one, but you can throw those odds out the window when one bites you in the [butt] like it did me.",0,106037.story

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I dont know if I was bitten by a gator if Id be going back in the water so soon lol

I see gators by the dozen on Santee... some are easily in the 15+ foot range and man what an awesome site they are. I really enjoy seeing them swim or sun themselves but I gotta admit when I am in my lil 14 foot aluminum boat, the big ones, can make me nervous lol

The nice thing about where I live is that we don't have that many alligators. There are a few, but only in places that they have been stocked and maintained.

The main worries we have around here are snakes, but I have no fear of snakes, so it's no big deal.

The man in the story is quite lucky that he didn't get it worse than he did.
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